Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera met Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima on Saturday to explain about joint Japan-U.S. drills to be held in October outside the southernmost prefecture but involving MV-22 Osprey aircraft based in Okinawa.
While Nakaima conveyed his appreciation for the use of sites away from Okinawa for the exercise, he told Onedera "concerns held by citizens in the prefecture about Osprey have not been erased at all."
Okinawa residents are opposed to the deployment of Osprey at the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station located in a densely populated area, due to concerns arising from the tilt-rotor aircraft's record of safety troubles overseas and the local burden of hosting U.S. bases.
The governor told reporters after the meeting that the plan to conduct the drills elsewhere is "the first step" in the central government's move to have more exercises outside Okinawa, which has the highest concentration of U.S. bases in Japan.
The drills in October, which will simulate the response to a powerful earthquake, will be held in the western Japan prefectures of Kochi and Shiga.
The exercise involving Japan's Self-Defense Forces and U.S. forces is the first of its kind organized by the SDF and is based on a scenario of an earthquake centered on the Nankai Trough off central and western Japan.